Blue Beyond Consulting

6 Key Factors to Successful Strategic Planning

Many of our clients come to Blue Beyond seeking a partner for successful planning. Planning for a culture reboot. Planning to overhaul their recruitment and retention efforts. Planning to implement a new communication strategy. Planning to help them navigate a crisis. Planning a leadership offsite. But, one of our biggest requests centers around strategic planning and aligning leaders, managers, and employees to bring the strategy to life.

Many organizations have a systematic process for strategic planning but look back a year later and wonder, “What happened?” According to research outlined in the Harvard Business Review, 85% of executive leadership teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy, and 50% spend no time at all.


What Is Effective Strategic Planning?

It turns out that a lot of people aren’t entirely clear what a strategy or strategic plan is — or how to make it impactful. They confuse it with organizational goals, objectives, and motivational taglines and oftentimes end up creating an operational plan (the “when” and “where”) or business plan (“who” and “what”) instead of a strategic one. 

The strategic plan gives you long-term goals and explains “how” your organization will gain a competitive advantage and be the best in your industry. It’s a long-term view. It provides a basis for monitoring progress, and for assessing results and impact. It facilitates new program development and enables your organization to look into the future in an orderly and systematic way. And, most importantly, it’s about grounding your organization in its purpose and values.

With continued global volatility and inflationary pressures building in the marketplace, your organization’s strategic plan should be taking center stage as you move to mitigate potential impacts. Here are our strategic planning best practices to get you started.


6 Strategic Planning Best Practices

1. Create a Collaborative, Inclusive Process

While this may seem obvious, this first step of the strategic planning process is often the hardest. Over-consensus can slow down efforts, but collaboration is at the center of a successful strategic planning process. Creating a strategic plan in a silo is a huge mistake. For a strategy to be successful, you need the right mix of people, and it must be cross-functional. This can include your board or leadership, finance, HR, operations, sales, marketing, and other relevant stakeholders.

It’s important to examine any potential biases that may impact the selection of your collaborators. A great question to challenge your unconscious biases is to ask yourself, “Who does this decision impact?” Answering that question helps you invite the right people to the table who can provide real insight into how you’re going to move forward. The more inclusive and collaborative your process, the more support you’ll have across a diverse set of stakeholders. It also helps ensure that your strategic plan accurately reflects your organization’s vision for the future. 

Nobody needs another meeting on their calendar, so schedule your check-ins and working sessions strategically based on what you need to accomplish. Not everybody needs to be at all your meetings. Consider a stakeholder analysis and mapping session to ensure that you have the right representation of voices to move forward on your initiatives.

Next, create a reasonable timeline. If you’ve never done this work before, it could take up to six months. A refresh could take anywhere between four and five weeks. Because strategic planning focuses on the destination and how you’re going to get there, be prepared to spend extra time thinking about who you are and where you want to go as an organization.


A magnifying glass and pen sit on a data summary, which includes bar and line charts of the organization’s performance

2. Operate Off Data — Not Assumptions

Everyone makes assumptions and has preconceived notions about their organization. However, starting the planning process without gathering data will set you up to fail. Without data, it’s easy to create your own reality. Data keeps you honest and increases efficiency. Interpreting data can be uncomfortable – it’s hard not to feel like you’ve failed when the feedback and numbers are telling you that something went (or is) wrong. But gathering and disseminating data isn’t just about your weak spots. It also allows you to wash, rinse, and repeat the areas of strength across your organization.

When gathering data, you’ll need to focus on two aspects: internal and external.

  • Internal – Is one part of your business growing faster than others? What departments have high rates of turnover? What managers have unhappy or unengaged employees? Who is performing, and where are the gaps? Who and what are overachieving — and how?
  • External – Assess the business landscape and what outside factors are playing a role in where your organization is headed. Right now, you may be looking long-term at inflationary pressures and talks of a possible recession. Trade and supply chain issues may also be impactful. 

After collecting the data, it’s time to gather more data in the form of feedback. Talk to people. Host focus groups. Review the data you’ve gathered with leadership, industry experts, and your employees. If you don’t understand the “why” behind the feedback, ask follow-up questions. An employee engagement survey is a valuable tool to take the pulse of your internal workforce. Finally, use current data about existing policies and structures to ensure you’re solving current problems.


3. Set an Expectation for Shared Responsibility and Ownership

During the strategic planning process, we often see organizations go as far as appointing a planning committee — but seldom do they give thought to the roles that those in the planning committee will play. Clearly defining expectations for participation is critical to cultivating a planning committee that works well together, is unified toward their common purpose, and delivers on desired outcomes. 

Part of this comes down to choosing the right people for the job. The ideal candidate is a team player who is invigorated by the additional opportunity and excited to take ownership. By empowering the right people with clear responsibilities, you’ll create a team of key contributors who readily share their opinions, make decisions, and champion the process from beginning to end.

Three colleagues brainstorm their strategic plan by arranging post-it notes on a transparent whiteboard

4. Prioritize Transparent Communication

End-to-end communication, more than anything, builds trust. If your stakeholders are going to buy into the plan, they need to trust you and trust the process. They also need to see how their ideas and inputs are being captured, considered, and shared through regular, transparent updates and communications. This can begin as early as initial plan development. How are you evolving and ideating on the strategies presented? What were the inputs? And how do you plan to share progress once the plan is in motion? Telling this story is critical to garner engagement and trust that translates to action when the plan is ready to initiate.

Communication is also a powerful tool to ensure that your action plan is shared widely and understood by the organization at large. It’s easy — and not uncommon — for our strategic plans to become long, winding documents. Thinking to this level of granularity is an important piece of work, but the result is that these documents, when distributed in their original format, are challenging to follow and share with others. 

Pairing your strategic roadmap with a comprehensive communications plan — including engaging visuals, action-packed language, and easy-to-share formatting — helps ensure that everyone understands the most important takeaways and the role they will play in turning your vision into reality.


5. Think Past the Strategic Plan

Strategy execution is just as important as planning. This includes having a clear understanding of your capacity and the resources at your disposal, as well as determining the few priorities that will best help your organization achieve its goals. Envision the material impacts of any strategic pivots — if they will require new role development, new ways to operationalize, additional resource commitments, and other considerations that will reshape the way you work.

Define your KPIs, keeping them simple and easy to measure. Try and look beyond revenue and money and don’t move the goalposts or ignore them. If you’re not hitting your targets, this could be a sign that your strategy has a broken link and could use an update. Gather your internal champions for an immersive working session to gather feedback and ensure that they understand and can articulate the vision. Set up training and have everyone, including your senior leadership team, take it. 

To put it simply, moving past strategic planning to action is all about getting your employees involved. Many organizations forget the human element in change and that different people have different ways of reacting to, and dealing with, a new direction. Successful change management is crucial to gaining buy-in. As we noted above, less than 5% of employees understand their company’s strategy. Is it any wonder employees have difficulty engaging in a strategy they don’t understand?


A business person writes down their strategic plan on paper

6. Commit to Making Changes — Especially Leadership

Change is difficult for everyone. It’s especially difficult for organizations that have been working the same way for a long time. Even more so if those ways were successful. But, changing demographics, social upheaval, and technological advances often necessitate major changes for an organization to remain relevant and competitive. 

To ensure your strategic plan’s success, be willing to commit to letting go of outdated processes, policies, toxic cultures, and managerial styles. Then do it and lead through it. Because change without action is just words on a piece of paper. 

The last thing you want after completing a strategic plan is to have a document that sits on the shelf and gathers dust. Strategy is an iterative process, and it will need to be rethought as your business and industry change.


Take Your Plan from Strategy to Reality

Creating and updating a strategic plan is essential for organizations to stay strong, relevant, and effective, especially in today’s complex and ever-changing economic and political climate. Whether you’re establishing your vision and setting goals for the first time, or are in need of a refresh, it’s always a wise idea to pause and consider where you want to be in the future and how you need to get there.

Whether you’re in the midst of developing your strategic plan or you’re already communicating your strategy to the entire organization, Blue Beyond can help you translate your strategy into a successful, executable framework.

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